As early as 1858, the ongoing conflict between the North and the South over the issue of slavery led Southern leadership to discuss a unified separation from the United States. By 1860, the majority of the slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans, the anti-slavery party, won the presidency. Following Republican Abraham Lincoln’s victory over the divided Democratic Party in November 1860, South Carolina immediately initiated secession proceedings. On December 20, its legislature passed the “Ordinance of Secession,” which declared that “the Union now subsisting between South Carolina and other states, under the name of the United States of America, is hereby dissolved.” After the declaration, South Carolina set about seizing forts, arsenals, and other strategic locations within the state. Within six weeks, five more Southern states had followed South Carolina’s lead.
In February 1861, representatives from the six seceded states met in Montgomery, Alabama, to formally establish a unified government, which they named the Confederate States of America. On February 9, Jefferson Davis of Mississippi was elected the Confederacy’s first president.
By the time Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March 1861, Texas had joined the Confederacy, and federal troops held only Fort Sumter in South Carolina, Fort Pickens off the Florida coast, and a handful of minor outposts in the South. On April 12, 1861, the American Civil War began when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. Within two months, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee had all joined the embattled Confederacy.
READ MORE: American Civil War: Causes and Dates